The A.V. Club’s selection of 18 Particularly Ridiculous Prog-rock Album Covers illustrates why the early ’70s might be the most aesthetically unappealing period in history ever. I’m aware that some of the albums they spotlighted come later on, but you get the gist.
Long, long ago I can remember seeing a clip on Entertainment Tonight of a teenage Paula Abdul frolicking in some godforsaken low-budget musical set in a high school cafeteria. She looked dorky, the song was dorky, and the kitsch gods were smiling down on me. Eighteen-odd years later, I revisited it — and, yeah, it’s still hilariously awful. Little did Paula know that she and her feather-haired Van Nuys classmates from Junior High School (1978) would live on through the courtesy of YouTube. The entire 39 minute featurette can be found there, but you can get all you need from the first two minutes of the clip below — with Paula croaking out “we’re gonna have a party” to her singing, dancing friends. Plays sort of like a hybrid of The ABC Afterschool Special and a bargain basement Grease, you know?
Dan Nadel’s Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries 1900-1969 arrived as a Christmas gift from my s.o., who bought it off my Amazon wish list after I blindly put it on there a few years back. Something about the cover design and the concept of trolling through old newspapers for comic obscurities appealed to me. For once a stab in the dark paid off, for this is a beautifully produced book chock full of eye-popping images — not only from the world of newsprint but from short-lived standalone comics as well.
The various comics collected here mainly tell me that the word “visionary” in the book’s title carries a wide definition. In some cases it might be a series that never caught on, while a few pages later a popular and long-running newspaper strip which wound up getting lost over time might be showcased. Some (like Gene Deitch’s Midcentury Modern Terr’ble Thompson) contain brilliant visuals supporting rather dull stories, while others crackle with subversive wit but are ordinarily drawn. A few others, like the work of Rory Hayes and Fletcher Hanks (who recently got his own anthology published by Fantagraphics), are so singularly bizarre they could have only come from one mind. Whatever their origins, all of the included comics are at the very least fascinating glimpses into the times they came from. Dan Nadel arranged the comics non-chronologically in loosely thematic groupings, so paging through them gives the reader an eclectic experience. Nice touch.
On another note, I want to point out how gorgeous some of those early, pre-WWII newspaper Sunday strips were. Being able to lay out a strip on an entire full page must have been a luxury that some artists undoubtedly used to full advantage — and you get to see a lot of lovely examples of this in the book. It’s especially heartening when looking at today’s pathetically scaled-down newspaper comics.
You probably know this already, but we love to thrift. Lately I’ve been spending more time in the kids’ book section. Granted, pawing through endless filthy stacks of cheesy Disney tie-ins and bios of teeny bopper stars from ten years ago can get a little depressing, but the drudge is worth it when coming across that rare gem. Like the ones below, for example. In the future I’ll be scanning more of these and adding them to my flickr photo stream, but in the meantime enjoy these illustrated samples from kiddie books dating to my particular favorite era of the late ’50s through the early ’70s.
Jeffie’s Party, written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham, was published in 1957 and derives its considerable charm from Graham’s wonderful talent for portraying children at play. Her artwork reminds me a lot of William Steig‘s New Yorker stuff from that same time. Spreads from Jeffie’s Party can be viewed here.
Tommy Visits the Doctor, illustrated by Richard Scarry, is another classic Little Golden Book that just gives me the warm fuzzies. The tale of a boy and a baby bunny visiting their respective doctors first came out in 1962, although the copy I got was an inferior mid-’70s reprint which may or may not be missing pages (Little Golden Books tended to do that). Accompanying the image below was the following: “The publishers hope that this little book will help prepare a child for his visit with the doctor. It was written by two people who have worked extensively with children, and it was illustrated by Richard Scarry, who believes that rabbits go to the doctor, too.”
Tell Me a Joke, from 1966, was illustrated by Bill Sokol in a semi-primitive style which looks remarkably similar to many contemporary artists’ work. I love the use of blue, yellow and orange spot color in the drawing below (and, yeah, the fact that the kid’s shirt pattern is very ’60s has a lot to do with it).
Though it’s not a particularly great example of children’s book illustration, the groovy 1969 back cover design for Whitman’s “Tell-A-Tale” books elicits this weird deja-vu feeling in me. I know I had several of these books as a kid, and based on the 35 cent cover price I’d guess that these were sold in supermarkets and drug stores. Note the presence of Little Lulu alongside Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and a horse which looks strangely like a forebear of My Little Pony:
Finally, we have a book that’s eluded me for the last 25+ years. At the age of eleven or twelve, I can remember being enthralled by a jokey little library book illustrated with simple yet elegant black line drawings. The drawings were accented with watercolor paints in a quasi-psychedelic rainbow of colors. In the ensuing years I could never remember this book’s title, but now I know: Arm In Arm, written and illustrated by Remy Charlip. This one was originally published in 1969 and has a trippy, vaguely European feel. Although the copy I found while thrifting was an inferior reprint published in smaller and cheaper form, you can definitely get a feel for Charlip’s (possibly weed-influenced) whimsy from one of the endpapers below.
Jeff of Tin Man fame shares his thoughts on voting in the N.Y. Democratic presidential primary. Like Jeff, it’s also my first time voting in my state’s primary and I’m taking it very seriously. The ballot arrived in the mail this week and now it’s time to do some serious homework on the candidates (For some reason — Republican conspiracy? — I never received a ballot in 2004). Unfortunately I don’t feel like I have enough info on everyone just yet to confidently cast a vote. The news media is covering this stuff like the Belmont Stakes: who’s winning? Who fell behind? Just tell me where they stand on the issues, dammit! I think both Clinton and Obama would make fine nominees, but Hilary has a lot of past baggage to overcome and Barack still comes off like a cipher to me (probably because I’ve only seen him giving speeches in that passionate yet “preaching to the choir” manner). I also want to investigate John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich further. Yes, it’s a lot of hemming and hawing over a single vote, but (Pollyanna mode) I like to believe that my vote represents more people here in Arizona who can’t or won’t be voting. Just keep in mind that whoever it is will be infinitely better than what we currently have. January 2009 cannot come soon enough!